From D-Day to Berlin: The Allied Liberation of Europe
Naval Support for the D-Day Landings
Summary: Eddie Carey was actually a serviceman in the RAF, but spent the war aboard a ship as a radio operator. He was part of the fleet which took part in the D-Day landings in 1944.
Mr Carey was interviewed at his home on 14th June, 2005.
How old are you Edward?
I'll be 85 on Thursday.
And you were in the R.A.F.?
How old were you when you joined up.
...he slammed it into full speed astern and it slowed the ship down and one of these torpedoes passed 2 or 3 yards in front of our bow and unfortunately it hit a Norwegian Destroyer behind us.
And what year was that.
What rank were you when you joined up?
AC2 when I joined up and then AC1 and I finished up LAC - Leading aircraftsman.
When you joined the R.A.F. where were you based initially?
Initially we went to Blackpool to do our 'square bashing' as they call it - in other words, your marching.
So would you like to tell me in your own words what happened after you joined up?
I went in as aircrew. When we got to Blackpool we had to take an aircrew medical. One of the main things was that you had to have perfect eyesight, which they called 20:20 vision. The strange thing was, one of the doctors told me I had a hernia. I told him I couldn't have, I had no symptoms, but he assured me I had and that I would need an operation if I wanted to fly. So I said OK and they whipped me into a hospital near Blackpool, had the operation, came home on a fortnight's sick leave, went back to Blackpool and they told me I'd have to take the medical again. The last thing they examined me on was my eyesight.
The doctor said, "I'm sorry I cannot pass you for air crew - your eyesight isn't 20:20 its just below. It's a shame really, because its only minimal, but you've got to be 20:20". I then had to go and see an Assessment Officer. When he spoke to me he said, "Did you really want to fly?" and I told him, "Yes". So he said "Well, I'll tell you what, take a Wireless Operators course". I said I didn't fancy it, so he said "The thing is, we lose a lot of aircrew in a war and there's just a possibility that they'll lose that many that they'll take someone like you, who has really good eyesight but its only just below average and you could become a wireless operator air gunner", so I took the wireless operator's course and the first posting I got was at a radar station in North Wales - I mean - you didn't know there was a war on!
When you watched the radar screens and saw all the enemy aircraft coming over, that was the only way you could tell there was a war on, because most of the radar stations were underground and they were all concreted. I was there for about a year and then I was posted to another radar station on the Isle of Man, so it was the same again, you didn't know there was a war on.
From there, after about two years they posted me to a station in Scotland and I couldn't believe what we were doing. We were doing cross-country runs, we were in the gym everyday. We were doing a miniature commando course, jumping over streams, climbing over walls.
We kept asking the sergeant why we were doing this, and he said, "Oh, you'll find out." and whatever we asked him it was always "You'll find out" and we were there three months. I had to laugh one day, we'd gone on a cross country run and we were more or less back at the aerodrome and the sergeant, who was a bit of a clever stick, and the last few yards going into the camp he was going backwards, saying come on, you can do better than that. and I thought right, and I just waited until I knew I could get past him before he could turn round and beat me to the line and I shot off like a bullet and I beat him. He turned round and said, "You're a bit of a clever stick, aren't you?" I said, "Well, you shouldn't have run backwards".
...we saw all these army wagons and all these ships filling the Solent and all round Portsmouth and there were thousands of them...
after the three months they issued us with a cloth badge and they said put that on your uniform, on your sleeve. So we asked what the badge was. It was the Combined Operations badge. So we asked where we were being posted. They said, you've got to go down to Liverpool to the R.A.F. headquarters. Report there and they'll take you down to the ship so I said, Excuse me, Sergeant, we haven't had any embarkation leave, which you always got if you were going overseas. So he said you don't want any embarkation leave. So we said, why's that and he said oh you'll find out.
So we got down to Liverpool and they took us to this ship.
So it sounds to me like it was all a bit shrouded in mystery.
Oh everything was hush hush. When we got on board they said you'll have to go and see the C.O.. So I went to see the Commanding Officer of the R.A.F.. He said I suppose you're wondering what the R.A.F. are doing on this ship. So I said it had crossed my mind, I thought we were going overseas. So he said, no, what you're going to do, when we get round to it, we're bound to make landings in Europe and you'll have noticed that on board this ship there are army, navy and air force personnel. And you're a wireless operator. This ship is going to be a headquarters ship wherever they make the landings. Well that was in April '44. Two months later I was at Normandy! We did a few exercises on the south coast first, but I couldn't believe it when they said we were going to Normandy. I was trying to get home for my brother's wedding.
He got married on 3rd June and I kept asking if I could go home for a weekend, and they said no you can't leave, and we saw all these army wagons and all these ships filling the Solent and all round Portsmouth and there were thousands of them and all of a sudden it just came on, we're going across to France tomorrow. That was on the 5th and we set off and it was amazing to see all the ships, all shapes and sizes.
That's where we were (shows photo) on SWORD beach. That was SWORD beach. That was the Largs. The reason was because we took all the information from the troops on shore and if they wanted the Warspite to shell a certain area they would get in touch with the Largs and they would take the message to the navy part of it, or if troops here were held up with tanks or whatever, they got in touch with the Largs and the army decided whether to get the warships to shell the place or whether to send more troops in or more guns in.
So you've got five beaches and five headquarter ships as well, is that one per beach would you say?
**** and **** they would have been American ships, they would have been looking after OMAHA and UTAH and English ships looking after ****
The Hilary was a back up ship. The Bulolo was the same as the Largs but as I say, all the information came through to Largs. The Bulolo suffered quite a bit during the landings as well.
Did your ship get hit?
Yes. One of the finest sights I ever saw was when they sent the gliders over. And there were hundreds of them with Bombers, Lancaster Bombers, pulling them, and it was amazing to watch them. They did do very well, actually, but that's another story. We did have a few scares, the Germans used to come over in planes and they used to drop what they call acoustic mines in the anchorage where the ships where. An acoustic mine would go off if a ship went over five knots above them. It would come up and blow the bottom out of the ship. To encourage them to move they had a mobile gun running along the coast and they used to shell the anchorage and if you moved more than 5 knots you got a mine up your bottom.
And the other thing was they used to send E-Boats into the anchorage as well. That was a high-speed motorboat and sometimes she carried these acoustic mines, or torpedoes. One day we got this warning that the e boats were in the anchorage. Our Skipper decided to move and as we were cruising, we weren't going fast, we were just edging out and the Officer of the watch saw one of these e-boats line us up and he fired the torpedoes but the Officer of the watch saw the trail in the water and although we were going forward he slammed it into full speed astern and it slowed the ship down and one of these torpedoes passed 2 or 3 yards in front of our bow and unfortunately it hit a Norwegian Destroyer behind us.
Verified by http://www.ddaymuseum.co.uk/memory_naval.htm
One day I was sat in the mess down below and I heard such a bang and one of the lads came dashing down to the mess. "Ted, come and have a look up top". I went up on deck and was looking around and I said, "There's nothing to see". He said "Look over the side of the ship - look aft". There was a great big shell stuck in the side of the ship. It didn't explode.
That was lucky. So the main danger was torpedoes and mines? Did you get any missiles coming in from the coast, from the batteries?
When we first got there, quite a lot came over but as the troops pushed in shore it got better and all we had to worry about were planes and e-boats. We were there about a month and then we came back to England and we had to have the shell taken out so we came home on leave and then went back. When we went back they said we were off again. This time we were going to the South of France and Northern Italy to do a combined landing on the south of France coast and northern Italy. So we did that and that was reasonably peaceful, there wasn't much going on.
It's surprising how you see some really lovely sights even though there's a war on. We were going down the Mediterranean and this lad said, "Have you seen the dolphins". I went to the bow of the ship and I looked down and swimming just in front of the bow there were six dolphins, three each side of the ship and then they'd peel off and go to the back.
From there we came back and we got another job in the Far East. When we were doing the south of France one we were in Naples for a few days and they used to send the Liberty boat in which took us to shore for a break and they said to me we've decided that R.A.F. and Army personnel have got to do the same duties as the Naval people, which meant painting the ship, scrubbing the decks, taking the Liberty boat. They said we want someone from the R.A.F. to take the Liberty boat in. One of my pals said "Ted's Dad was a fisherman, he should know how to steer a boat", so they said "You'll do", and the funny thing was the Coxswain on the liberty boat was from Hull, Jack Snell they called him. I took the liberty boat in a few times and the daft thing was some of the naval lads didn't know about the Largs and they used to take the mickey out of me because I was the only R.A.F. bloke there, they would say - "Oh the fly-boy's here".
When we going out to Rangoon we stopped in Bombay. They said "R.A.F. Shore Patrol you, you and you" and I was one of them. We had a baton and a white belt. We had to keep a watch for any trouble with Navy, Army or Air Force. I used to say to this chap, I did more naval duties than you did, even though you were in the Navy. I bet you I did. I said, "Have you done a naval patrol". He said, "No - I was a stoker". I said, "Well I've done a naval patrol!".
He was on the ships were they didn't get a tot ration. I asked him if he'd ever seen one of these. We used to have a little card and it said G for grog if you wanted it and T for teetotal if you didn't. He said "Bloody hell, an R.A.F. bloke with a tot card!" I said, "Yes, we had to do everything that you lads did". I said, "Have you ever coaled a ship?" He said, "No, they don't do that these days, most of them are diesel". So I told him that when we got to Port Said when we going to the Far East we were given a pair of overalls and we went down to a lighter at the side of the ship and we had to hump bags of coal onto the ship. He said what the hell did you want coal for? I said how do you think they kept the fires going in the galley?
We got to Rangoon and we did the Rangoon landings. That wasn't too bad either. There was a lot of gunfire and rifle fire. There was very little air activity. There were only our planes; we never saw any Jap planes. Then we went to Ceylon. Lord Mountbatten came onboard and he said I've got another job for you. He said were going to make landings at Singapore. We said "Oh Crikey!"
That was in the morning. On the nighttime we used to go on the boat deck and they had a cinema screen and we used to watch films. We were sat waiting for the film to come on and all of a sudden all hell broke loose. There were guns going off, flares, rockets, we thought we were under attack at first, but they were all firing up in the air. All of a sudden an Officer came dashing up to the boat deck and he said You wont see a film tonight lads - the wars over. The Americans have dropped two atom bombs on Japan and they've surrendered. So we didn't have to do the Singapore one.
The only other thing - when we were on our way back we stopped at Bombay again. One of the sergeants came down to the mess deck. He said we've just got a signal from the Air Ministry in London.
"Congratulations all round?", we said. He said, "No. We've got to disembark at Bombay." He said, "I don't know what we're going to do."
He came back a bit later and said we were going home. We said we thought we were disembarking. So he said the C.O. didn't want to disembark so he'd told the Admiralty that we'd only 24 hours to get all the R.A.F. gear off the ship, all our equipment, and it was all down in the hold and it was mixed up with all the army stuff and naval stuff and he said it was an impossibility. They sent a signal back and said you'd better come back to the UK then. Otherwise we would have been stuck in India. I felt sorry for a Welsh lad - we sat round one of the hatches. All of a sudden they let the anchor go. Id heard it before because my father was a fisherman and they used to smuggle us onto the trawlers and hide us in one of the sleeping bunks and we used to go into the North Sea and I often heard the chains of the anchors rattling.
Anyway the anchor went down, without any warning, and he stood up, and I don't know what he thought it was, but he stood up and he ran round and round the hatch about four times. I said Its all right, Taff, it's the anchor going down - He said "Strewth! I thought the ship was falling to pieces".
Another time when we went to do the South of France landings we were at Naples. We used to get a little ticket for a beer in the NAAFI. Actually, it was the Royal Palace, which they'd turned into a NAAFI. So we went to the bar and asked for a beer, and they didn't have any. So one of the lads that were with us was the son of a Lord and he said, "We'll have a Masala - a lovely drink". We thought - what the heck's that. They brought us half a pint of this liquid. We took a sip and it was syrupy. I thought - I don't like that. I put mine down, and my mate Bill put his down, and I said I don't want that. I said to Bill - lets find a cinema, go to the flicks.
The toff came in and we said Are you coming and he said no he'd stay and have a drink. after the film we came back to the jetty and the toff was stretched out. So we said, "what happened to him?" Well those two drinks we left - he drank them. He walked down the stairs, through the door and when he hit the fresh air he crashed out. We thought he was really bad, actually. There are sea cocks on the ship and you open them up and sea water comes out and we put him under one of those and turned them on and nearly drowned him and he never moved a muscle, so we took him down below to his hammock. Eventually he came round, but we thought a sergeant or a corporal would find him, but he got away with it.
When we were out east we used to go on deck and fasten the hammocks to the gun turret and sleep in the open air. It was during the monsoon season and one of the matelots said you wont stay there long, so I said why not. He said it will be pouring with rain shortly and you'll get wet through. I used to have a cape so I strung a piece of string along the top and put the cape over and I was under the cape. I woke up the next morning, looked out and I thought, I'm OK and I lifted a corner of the groundsheet and it had filled with water. I nearly got drowned.
Did you sleep on deck because it was so hot on the ship?
We used to sunbathe in it. It was terrifically hot.
Did you get plenty of time to mill around on the ship? Make lots of friends. It was quite a good time - for making friends etc?
We never had any sitings of U Boats or anything. We went in convoy most of the time and I can't remember us losing a ship.
So you weren't living in fear most of the time?
No - planes were the major problem. We used to see a few, but not a lot. We used to get air cover from Malta. They used to send fighters over to keep an eye on us.
When did you leave the forces?
1946. When we came back from the Far East the ship went to Greenock. We disembarked there. I then got posted to an R.A.F. station in Scotland and we'd nothing to do, no duties really, just man the telephone exchange.
The sergeant said, you'll have to watch some of these people here. When they ring through to the Exchange you ask them - Is it a service call or a private call? Some people will tell you it's a service call. When they've been on the line a few minutes you monitor the line and if they're talking to their girlfriends or wives ask for their name and tell them your charging them for the call. I was on one night and a call came through - a service call - I pressed the lever forward. He was talking to a woman. I butted in, excuse me can I have your name please, you told me it was a service call and it's a private call. It was the sergeant of the exchange!! He came in next morning and said, you did well there.
I used to get escort duties. They used to say, are you married. I said yes. They said Have you been with anybody else while you've been in the forces. A lot of men had. But not me. Two or three nights later we were at a dance and one of the girls came over and said "Ted, will you take Mary back to the billet, she's had a bit too much to drink" so I took her back then came back to the dance and I got a regular job, escorting girls to the billets, because I wouldn't touch them. Then the chap that ran the cinema, he said, Do you go to the cinema often. Oh I said, regular. He said I'll show you around. He showed me how to put the reels in, etc so I got a bit of that job on the night time as well. There were always perks, you wouldn't dream of really!
What drove you to join the forces in the first place?
No option - you were called up. I got a notification in the October to report to the office in town, the recruiting office and they said you'll be called up shortly, so have a word at the recruiting office. They asked a few questions about how fit you were etc. Then they said have you any preference - so I said R.A.F.. In the December I got my calling up papers. You had no option unless you were in a reserved occupation. I was an office clerk. You couldn't say you weren't going.
How did you feel when war broke out. Where you scared?
Well, you were always a bit apprehensive. You knew from the First World War what it was like. That was one reason, when I read about all the people who had lost their lives in the trenches, I thought I don't want to go in the army. There again, if my eyesight had perfect, I may not be here today, there was a lot of loss of life there.
Do you have an interest in wartime aircraft or ships?
Yes. When I came out, with being on the ships so much and I really enjoyed it. When I was on trawlers with my dad I was always sick, and I always said when I get back in civvy street Id like to go on a cruise, but Joyce never wanted to go, so I never got the chance.
I went over to Holland and Belgium.
As part of the commemorative visits?
It's horrifying when you see those graves - so many.
I went to the war cemetery at Bayeaux. I've just got back from Normandy. Went to all the beaches and museums as part of the research for this. It helps you appreciate what you chaps have been through.
Compared to what the army lads went through, we had it easy.
But, then if your ship had sunk you wouldn't have had it easy.
We had a few narrow escapes but we got away with it.
But without the work that you did, they would never have got ashore.
Oh yes, you had to have communication. They wouldn't function.
Was it morse code, encryption?
We did a bit of RT, but most of it was morse code.
Can you remember it all?
A few bits. I never thought I would take to it.
So you take the incoming message, write it down and pass it on.
But it was all on code, so you didn't know what was going on.
The sergeant in charge of the office would come and take the message and pass it on.
The chap in charge of the ship, what was his rank?
And who was he answerable to?
The ship we were on was a French fruit ship! When France capitulated to the Germans we had a Destroyer in the Mediterranean cruising about and stopping ships from taking stuff into France. It came across this ship - they called it the Charles Plumier. It was going to Marseilles. The Skipper of the Destroyer told them that they were confiscating the ship. They took it to Gibraltar and then to England. They changed it into a search ship to replace the Destroyer. They refitted her and she became HMS Largs.
Is it named after the town in Scotland?
Yes, because the headquarters of Combined Operations was in Largs.
What happened to the ship?
She went back to France and became the Charles Plumier again and they sold her to the Greeks.
So you're a member of the NVA?
How long have you been a member?
10 years or just over 10 years. The trouble was after the war I could have belonged to so many different associations that .. I thought I could have joined the R.A.F. but I was on the parade once and there was a R.A.F. chap there who got talking and said "do you belong the R.A.F. Association?" so I said "no no", so he said "why?", so I said "I can belong about five or six different associations" I said so I said "I didn't bother to y'know join any one in particular" so he said "oh well" he said "you're not missing much" he said "they're a snobby lot the R.A.F. y'know" he said "especially the air crew types y'know" so I said, "Oh I'm glad I didn't join".
And then when it was the 50th anniversary of D-Day I thought, "Oh I'd like to", and I knew they were having a march past and a service and I was in Humber St. Andrews Club on Anlaby Road and I saw this chap with an NVA badge so I said, I said "excuse me do you think I could join your Company for the parade and service?" so he said "were you at Normandy?" so I said "yeah" so he said "oh what were you in" so I said "the R.A.F.", "R.A.F.!" so I said "yeah" so he said "what were you doing at Normandy" so I said "a very importantly job actually" so there were some units of signals people that went ashore at Normandy R.A.F.. So he said "oh yeah" he said I think it was "parade at 10 o'clock in Railway Station yard" so I said "yeah ok" and when we'd finished he said "did you enjoy it?" so I said "yeah" so he said "well why don't you come and join us?" y'know he said "we go to France, Belgium, Holland" he said "and other places in England" he said "y'know we do quite a lot of trips" he said "it's quite good" so I said "oh ok" so I went and joined the NVA. As I say that's 11 years now since.
Did you find it useful when you joined the NVA that you had people that had had the same experience or similar experiences to you to talk about it and get it off your chest and to reminisce.
It must be difficult returning to civilian life after experiencing what you did.
Yeah you don't get the same camaraderie in civvy street as you do y'know but when you get together, when you've all done the same thing it's a different story.
Do you parade with the NVA?
Do you get dressed up in uniform?
How does that make you feel?
We've got slacks and a blazer.
So you all wear the same uniform even though some were in the army and you were in the R.A.F., you all wear the same or do you have distinctions?
No, not really the only distinction you have is that I've got an R.A.F. tie whereas my pal has an army tie or a navy bloke will have a navy tie y'know or a navy badge. I've got a badge with I'll show you.
Thank you. Oh, that's smashing. Could I take a photograph of you do you want to pop it on and I'll get a photograph of it, Eddie. It was Len who gave me your name and address originally, when I went to see Len he said "Oh you want to go down and see Eddie" and then Mike rang up with you and Arthur Stephenson and Denis and one or two other names.
Well Len never mentioned it to me.
Did he not?
No, it was Mike that came across to me.
Oh when I went to see Len it was "Oh you want to ring Eddie. He's down Arcon".
Yeah, he said that a gentleman wants to come round and see you about what you did during the war. He said "he's already been to see Len" he said "with you being the only R.A.F. one would you be prepared to let this young man come?"
That's what he said, yes.
So I said "Oh yes, certainly."
(takes a photograph.)
Oh yeah. You've got your ships name on there as well.
I never used to have a badge on here and then I went to a reunion at Chester and while we were there one of the neighbouring lads was sat at the table having a drink, and he pulled this badge out and he said, "Here look at that."
He said, "That's nice isn't it?"
So I said, "Oh yeah", I said "Ooh I'd like a badge like that. Where did you get it from?"
So he said, "I got it from Scotland." He said, "I sent away for it." So I said, "Ooh give me the address, please."
So I said, "How much is it?"
So he said, "£8.00."
So I said "What!"
He said "£8.00."
I said "you're pulling my leg aren't you?" I said "If you go to that Bassy's a badge there is about £14.00."
"Oh," he said, "They're only £8.00."
So I sent away for it. That's the latest one, that one there, I've only just got that - veteran.
Where did you get that from?
Ministry of Defence.
Oh, they just send them out?
They sent leaflets out and you have to sent your name and service number. And that's the first time they've issued one. I've only got it earlier this year. When we did the Rangoon landing, we didn't have a back-up ship, so it was decided to allocate the job to HMS Phoebe, which was a naval Cruiser.
To accomplish this we had to delegate six army and six R.A.F. wireless operators from HMS Largs and take them over to the Phoebe until the operation finished.One teatime we were having our meal when I noticed one or two sailors pick up a slice of bread, hold it up to the light, and then pick out small pieces of the bread and discard it.I thought it was a strange thing to do so I asked one of the sailors opposite why they did this and he said, 'Oh, they are only picking the weevils out!' At the time I didn't know what a weevil was, but found out later that it was a small insect that infested corn and flour, so often got cooked when the bread was baked!
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